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1 Peter iii. 15.
Be ready always to give an answer to every man,
that asketh you a reason of the hope, that is in you, with meekness and fear.
IT was observed in the morning, that the readiness, injoined in the text, not only a readiness to give an answer, but included also a readiness to suffer for the name of Jesus : for the readiness to give an answer was in those days chiefly called into exercise by the sword of persecution. A poor Christian was suddenly summoned before a magistrate, to account for his faith. He was required either to blaspheme his saviour, or to sacrifice to idols; and, if he refused to do either, he was commonly condemned to suffer death. But in refusing this demand it became him, as saint Peter here reminds him, to give a reasonable answer concerning the hope, that was in him, and to give it moreover with modesty, with meekness and fear, as a person, who had no confidence in himself, but relied for courage and constancy as well as for comfort on the power and faithfulness of his saviour.
But in order to give this answer according to the instruction of the apostle, it was necessary to have a reason to assign; and moreover previously to assigning any reason, it was necessary to have a hope in Christ: and therefore we in the first place inquired, what this hope implies. It implies first a hope of salvation, or of entire conformity to the will of our Maker, and secondly a hope of glory, or of that blessedness, which is inseparably annexed to such conformity. This is the hope, which every true Christian cherishes, and which he relies on Jesus Christ alone to accomplish.
It was observed therefore in the second
place, that in proportion to the greatness of this hope is the necessity of assuring ourselves, that it rests on a secure foundation : and I proceeded to adduce considerations, which may convince us, how very important it is, that we should be satisfied on good grounds, not only, that there is truth in the religious system, in which we profess to believe, but that there is reality also in our own profession of adherence to it; that the christian hope is not a fable, and that our own interest in it is not a delusion.
For the purpose of assisting you in answering both these questions for your own satisfaction and confirmation in the faith I have announced my intention to enter upon an examination first of the evidences of the christian religion, secondly of its nature (that is of the appointed way of salvation), and thirdly of the means, by which every one of us may be kept in that way, and obtain everlasting life.
This course of investigation will of course occupy us during several weeks ; and, as with the divine permission it will be pursued both
morning and evening in a regular order, till the whole shall be finished, it was especially recommended, that young persons should be brought regularly to attend the whole series, that so they may receive a summary of those proofs, on which their religion depends, of those truths, in which it consists, and of those practices, by which it may be exercised, and thus be ready always to give an answer to every man, that asketh them a reason of the hope, that is in them, with meekness and fear. I say a summary of these things, because at most it is only a summary, and a very brief summary of them, that can be attempted in this place. But, if what shall be said here shall lead to further inquiry and instruction, the attempt, however imperfect, will not have been made in vain.
In the mean time there are a few other observations, which I wish to make, on the duty of instituting such inquiries, and of building our faith, not on the opinions of others, but on reasons, that cannot be shaken, with a view of obviating difficulties and satisfying reasonable doubts. It is obvious, that the great majority of the christian world (for the lower orders of the community are in every state the great majority) have neither leisure, nor preparation of mind, nor adequate preliminary instruction for entering into an abstruse or elaborate inquiry concerning the evidences of Christianity, or controverted points of doctrine. It is obvious moreover, that children in every class of life, who have been given to the lord in baptism, inust be instructed in the truths and duties of christianity, before they are of an age to examine its proofs, or to balance conflicting arguments regarding its nature. Much must in both these cases be received
trust from the advice, persuasion, and authority of others: and yet there is no limitation to any class of persons in the general exhortation of the apostle, when he says-Be
ready always to give an answer to every man, that asketh you a reason of the hope, • that is in you, with meekness and fear!'
The first question therefore, which I mean to consider this evening, brethren, relates to the degree of knowledge, which is requisite in every instance for a compliance with the